Obese Adolescents Likely to be Severely Obese Adults


If you have an obese adolescent at home, he or she has an increased risk for becoming a severely obese adult, according to a new study in the November 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Obese adolescents need help to prevent severe obesity

The latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that obesity among adolescents has increased from 5.0 percent in 1976 to 18.1 percent in 2008. Prevalence of obesity among all adolescent boys was 19.3 percent and among all girls, 16.8 percent. Among boys, Mexican-Americans were the most likely to be obese (26.8%), and among females, black girls (29.2%).

Investigators in the latest study set out to determine the incidence and risk of severe obesity in adulthood among obese adolescents. The study population included 8,834 individuals ages 12 to 21 years who were enrolled in 1996 in the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. These individuals were then followed up into adulthood (ages 18-27 in 2001-2002, and ages 24-33 in 2007-2009).


In 1996, 79 (1%) of the adolescents were severely obese, and 60 of them (70.5%) were still severely obese in adulthood. Severe obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or greater, and the condition is associated with serious and potentially life-threatening health complications, including heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, respiratory problems, infertility, and cancer, among others.

The investigators noted 703 new cases of severe obesity in adulthood between adolescence (1996) and the endpoint of 2007 to 2009, which represented a total incidence rate of 7.9 percent. Individuals with severe obesity in adulthood had a higher BMI during adolescence and were more likely to be racial/ethnic minorities than individuals who were not severely obese.

The incident of severe obesity was 37.1 percent in men and 51.3 percent in women, according to the study’s authors, with black women representing the highest incidence at 52.4 percent. Overall, less than 5 percent of individuals who were at a normal weight during adolescence became severely obese as adults.

Results of this study of obese adolescents and severely obese adults are important, say the authors, because “understanding which individuals are at risk of severe obesity is essential for determining when interventions would need to be implemented to prevent obese individuals from progressing to severe obesity.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Journal of the American Medical Association 2010; 304(18): 2042-47